Surgeon builds on medical pioneer family’s legacy

March 22, 2018

This piece is presented by Avera.

When your grandfather, father and uncle all were physicians, there’s a chance a career in medicine may stand out among your life choices.

That was the case for Dr. Matthew Barker, a subspecialist surgeon with Avera Medical Group Urogynecology Sioux Falls. In some ways, he’s part of a pioneer family.

“My father was the first subspecialist at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, as a gastroenterologist, and we joke that we’re prairie pioneers of medical care in South Dakota,” Barker said. “When I was contemplating my career choices, medicine was really appealing, not as a job, but as a lifestyle.”

Barker is an innovative physician. His father, Dr. John D. Barker Jr., gave him the example to follow in terms of focusing on a distinct area of practice. Another inventive tidbit on his father: he was the first physician at Avera McKennan to have a computer in his office. His mother, Linda, was a women’s rights advocate who realized the importance of women’s health care needs and instilled that in her son. Those experiences led him to be the first – and still only – fellowship-trained physician of his type in the upper Midwest.

“It was a new field when I was in medical school, and it’s still a small family of physicians who practice it,” he said. “Its appeal to me was the fact it bridged so many things that I was passionate about: surgery, working with an older population of patients and focusing on a sensitive part of women’s health that demands trust establishment and compassionate listening on my part.”

Because so much of his practice is focused on female pelvic medicine, Barker helps patients who face pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence and more.

Avera Medical Group Urogynecology offers robotic surgery and minimally invasive procedures to help women with pelvic floor dysfunction. Barker also started the Avera Sexual Medicine Program, which is designed to help women who suffer from painful sexual intercourse or those who have had complications following cancer and related gynecologic difficulties. Among its offerings is the Mona Lisa Touch laser therapy that can help relieve vaginal dryness, discomfort or pain after childbirth or during menopause or after cancer treatment.

“With all the advances in medical training, there are still few of us in the subspecialty, in part because it takes a long time to complete the training, and only about 50 programs nationally offer it,” Barker said. “To remain effective as a subspecialist, you have to keep up on the education and training. If you’re not passionate about your area of focus, you won’t serve your patients effectively.”

Comparing notes with his father, Barker said there are generational differences in health care, yet one aspect remains that defines the priority in all care.

“Innovation doesn’t only happen in new buildings or with expensive equipment. It’s not all about the latest genetic test. It happens when a physician is driven to meet the needs of his or her patients,” Barker said.

“Understanding your patients’ needs comes from developing strong relationships with them, earning their trust and working as a team, with the patient as the central focus of that team. When that approach is taken, it’s then that new therapies and innovative approaches to care come to light.”

His role with the Avera system is a good fit because the health system’s mission and his own priorities mesh, he said.

“It all starts, at the top, with taking care of people. Filling a need – that’s why the (Benedictine and Presentation) Sisters came to this part of the United States, and that’s what we’re doing with a large population of people across our region,” he said. “Even within a subspecialty, the collegial nature of our health system, that interlocking mission – that drives what we do.”

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Surgeon builds on medical pioneer family’s legacy

He’s the first and only fellowship-trained physician of his kind in the region. Learn how Dr. Matthew Barker is pioneering in medicine as generations of his family have done before him.

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